Given the number of questions about visas and requests for detailed notes I have had over the last few years of my travels, I should have written this note ages ago.
My observations here stem from my own personal experience, ranging from the delightful to the tortuous, at embassies & consulates around the world.
I have been to over 200 embassies on my own during these last 7 years. Not counting visas & stamps obtained on arrival, I have been able to get around 90 visas of roughly 70 nations. At times, I will borrow from anecdotes related by others.
So here is the summary, from my experience of personally visiting around 205 embassies of 100 countries, in 70 countries:
- Most important rule – there are no rules. Every visa requirement can be waived. *Every*
- Display self-confidence without turning arrogant. You have to convince them that your case is genuine and that you are not a trouble-maker.
- Don’t forget – the most important phrases, in any language, are ‘sorry’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’. They help, really.
- If you have a big bank balance, preferably in a hard currency, include a bank statement in your documents, whether they ask for it or not, but don’t show off. That will do the trick in a lot of embassies.
- If you had to buy, for whatever reason, a flight in and/or out of the country, region, continent, include those flight confirmations.
- That thing they say about allowed to issue only to residents? Bullshit! Convince them that you are in no position to apply anywhere else.
- The guards, receptionists, visa counter people … all of them have power to get the visa officer to consider your case. Be very nice to them.
- Things are always easier in embassies of smaller countries or embassies in remote places.
- Never lie at an embassy, but keep in mind that you don’t need to always tell the whole truth. You can also answer a question different from the one you were asked ;-). Mumbling can be useful too!
- Don’t give them a chance to go down the list of requirements, ever. Push your documents first. That is enough!
- Be prepared to write a neat cover letter explaining your travels etc. Sometimes this is all you need.
- Visas – especially longer-term, multiple entry ones – of nearby powerful countries can help. So a visa for US, Malaysia/Singapore/Japan, Chile/Brazil, South Africa/Turkey can all be useful.
- Every visa officer at borders/airports has the power to issue a visa on arrival, even if your country is officially not allowed that privilege. Depends on how you deal with the officer.
- Show them, without being rude, that you are determined. Ask to speak to the visa officer or consul or first secretary. If they say you have to wait, tell them you are free and will wait. Bring a book with you so you can wait as long as you need to. If you have to go multiple times over a few days, don’t give up.
- If you can present any mention – in a book/mag, newspaper, or site – of your travels, please include a printout.
- If you have a shitty passport don’t show it right away. That will prejudice them. Wait until they ask for it.
Again, all these are based on real episodes. For now I hope this helps. Questions?
About the author
Guru has been on the road for around 7 years now. He has been slow-traveling the world on an Indian passport. Based in Silicon Valley for a few years, he quit the startup world to follow his childhood dream of seeing the world. He hopes everyone gets a chance to spend at least a year on the road. It is truly life-changing he says. You can follow him at facebook.com/therealguru, and also at couchsurfing.com/theguru.
The details of this post are views and thoughts of Guru based on his personal experience.